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You are Here: Parachute History.com >> Men >> Bob McDonnell

Bob McDonnell

Bob McDonnell, D-10, made his first jump on April 15, 1957. He found a pilot with an Aeronca Champ, a two-seater airplane.

Bob's parachute equipment was:

  • an old T-7A cotton harness with a single point release at the chest.
  • a 28-ft twill, flat circular canopy
  • no canopy releases of any kind
  • no sleeve or bag to help reduce opening forces
  • overalls as a jumpsuit
  • his brother's football helmet
  • a neat pair of hunting boots that had a pocket for a knife on the side

Bob's first airplane ride was up to 4,500 ft where he did his first parachute jump. His jump was a freefall jump, as a static line could possibly damage the aircraft. Bob climbed out and jumped. He did a delay for five seconds before pulling.

His next two jumps were also from 4,500 ft, but he did 10 and 15 second delays. He found it frustrating to find a pilot that would take some nut up, to let him jump.

In 1959, Bob attended the US Nationals and joined the Army, hoping to become one of the original Golden Knights. His dream came true, but brought sadness too.

A C-123 carrying the USAPT crashed on take-off from an air show in Wilmington, NC on Sept. 24, 1961. He was trapped inside when the aircraft caught fire. He was severely burned over most of is body.

Bob McDonnell and Doug Runnels were awarded the Soldier's Medal for their heroic actions during the crash. Bob Turner, the team photographer was killed. Joe Norman, Bobby Letbetter and Wilfred Charette were injured.

Bob spent two years recovering from the severe burns he sustained in the accident. He had 32 major operations on the road to recovery.

Bob tried jumping again but found the Para-Commanders would not provide him with safe enough landings. He quit jumping for 18 years.

During that time he earned a BS and MS in Education, married and raised a family. He has four daughters. He taught high school English for 25 years total. He learned to ski, do marathons, coach track, raced bicycles. He traveled the country in a motor home.

Then one day... while recreating with his family near Disney World in Florida, he remembered that Lew Sanborn lived nearby. He called Lew. It happened to be Lew's birthday too. Lew was jumping into a party at the end of the day and invited Bob and his family to join in the fun.

Lew Sanborn did a perfect tippy-toe landing as Bob and his family watched. When Bob saw the miracle of modern ramair parachutes, his heart again longed to jump. Bob's wife had some misgivings. That was in 1987.

Bob continued to jump and in 1994 bragged to Dick Fortenberry, that if the Golden Knight Reunion was ever held at Raeford, NC he would do his 1000 jump.

Wouldn't you know it... the Reunion WAS scheduled to be held at Raeford, in six weeks!

So Bob had a big task of make 68 jumps in six weeks. He was 57 years old, so more than 10 jumps per week was quite a pace. Bob also had to fight weather holds in western New York where he lived.

Bob made his 1000 jump on Aug. 6, 1994, 37 years after his first jump.

Those people, helping Bob celebrate this occasion, where:

  • Al Solis
  • Jim Massillo
  • Randy Shinn
  • Mike Nester
  • Colleen McDonnell
  • Danny Greene
  • Larry Franklin
  • Dick Fortenberry, also an original member of the Golden Knights
  • Sonny Hill
  • Cheryl Stearns
  • Bob Mittig
  • John Reid
  • Jerry Bourquin, also an original member of the Golden Knights
  • Ron Webb
  • Paul Rafferty
  • Randy Kern

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